Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,209

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,209


This is the grave of Robin Winks.

Born in 1930 in Indiana, Winks grew up on the road, as his family tried to find their bearings during the Depression. They ended up in Colorado, where he was a star high school quarterback. He attended college at the University of Colorado, where he graduated in 1952. He got a Fulbright to study in New Zealand, which was still a pretty new thing then. At this point, he was interested in indigenous issues and got a master’s degree in Maori Studies from Victoria University. From there, he went back to Colorado for another master’s in ethnography. But his interests shifted, as they would through his career and when he went to Johns Hopkins for his Ph.D., it was for a dissertation on American-Canadian relations. He finished that in 1957 and got a job at Yale after a year at Connecticut College. He would never leave Yale, though he would teach around the world as he was always a big time traveler.

Winks became a scholar who would publish in almost anything. Many of his many books are coauthored and I have no way of knowing just what he did and what his coauthors did. Among his more important books include Canada and the United States (1960); The Age of Imperialism (1969); The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence (1969); A History of Western Civilization, with Brinton, Christopher and Wolf (1984); Frederick Billings: A Life (1991); and Laurance S. Rockefeller, Catalyst for Conservation (1997). But probably his single most important was Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961 (1987), which explored how American spy agencies had recruited heavily from Ivy League professors.

Winks was also a cultural attaché for the U.S. Embassy in London between 1969 and 1971, part of his vast travels around the world that included teaching at schools from Sierra Leone to Canada.

Winks also had enormous interests outside of academia. A huge fan of detective fiction, he had a side gig reviewing that stuff for The New Republic and the Boston Globe. He was also a major supporter of the national parks and worked with the National Park Service on its public relations. In fact, he became the first known person to visit every site in the NPS system. I kind of doubt he was actually the first, but he was the first to announce he had done it. For his work for the parks, in 1998 he won the Department of the Interior’s Conservationist of the Year Award.

Winks worked until the very end. In fact, shortly before his death, he had agreed to lead a Yale alumni trip to Nepal and Bhutan. Alas, he had a stroke and died in 2003, at the age of 72.

Robin Winks is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

If you would like this series to visit some of the people Winks wrote about, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Frederick Billings is in Woodstock, Vermont and Laurance Rockefeller is in Sleepy Hollow, New York, though on the family’s land so that one might be hard. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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